In the wake of the suicide of a Chinese employee working at Apple’s hardware partner Foxconn, Apple’s practices have been scrutinized to a greater degree. The suicide reportedly came after the employee was beaten for losing an iPhone prototype.
Now employees are coming forward and revealing a tale of how Apple has transformed from a hippie haven founded by a free-spirited hackers (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak) to a land of secret spies and invasive surprise searches. For Apple’s executive leadership, its unusual approach is merely a design to protect the trade secrets that make it arguably the hottest maker of mobile gadgets. However, to most the company’s tactics enter into the realm of paranoia and abuse.
According to Apple employees past and present, Apple maintains a so-called “Worldwide Loyalty Team”. Composed of moles spying at its headquarters, the team’s members pose as normal employees only to snitch on those who are suspected to be leaking info.
Describes a former Apple, Inc. employee who goes by the name Tom in an interview with Gizmodo, “Apple has these moles working everywhere, especially in departments where leaks are suspected. Management is not aware of them. Once they suspect a leak, the special forces—as we call them—will walk in the office at any hour, especially in the mornings. They will contact whoever was the most senior manager in the building, and ask them to coordinate the operation.”
The “Loyalty Team” agents then proceed to search employees’ belongings and confiscate their phones, while the management coordinates the search. As employees are only allowed to have company-granted phones on site, its easy for the agents to analyze the employees’ phone history for hints of leaking activity.
During the search employees are order to turn on their screen saver and stare at it. They are not allowed to instant message, text message, call, or otherwise communicate with each other. Describes Tom, “It is like a gag order, and if the employee does not want to participate, they are basically asked to leave and never come back.”
When the agents find what they are looking for, they keep the suspect after work for more advanced interrogation. Tom states, “I was at several events. When they find what they are looking for—which they usually do—the person is asked to stay until the end of the business day. Then he is asked to leave the premises quietly, escorted by security. There is a lot that goes behind doors that I don’t really know about. I do know, however, that they really interrogate people that are serious suspects, intimidating them by threatening to sue.”
All the searches are “voluntary”, though refusal to comply typically will lead to dismissal, according to Tom. Reportedly the secret agents also engage in a diverse set of functions including seeding fake images to catch leakers and discredit the leak machine. They also work to minimize the internal buzz surrounding significant announcements.
For Apple, the revelations of its secret police are beyond bizarre, but not entirely surprising for the company that exercised secrecy to a point of compulsion, once killing one of its largest leak fan-sites for refusing to reveal the source of its leaks. They seem especially ironic, though, considering that Apple used a now infamous 1984-themed commercial to introduce its Macintosh computer in 1984.
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